This party’s been jumping
Defensemen are active on attack
WILMINGTON - It is a rare occurrence when Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference has the puck behind the net - the one that doesn’t have Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask standing between its posts.
But it was Ference’s second-period jump up in the Bruins’ 4-1 victory over Toronto that led to Chris Kelly’s winning goal Saturday. Ference fed Rich Peverley, who in turn spotted Kelly driving to the net.
“He was keeping that play going,’’ said Peverley of Ference. “He was in there forechecking. I just came off a change. Great play by him to start it all.’’
Ference had taken a cross-ice pass from Benoit Pouliot, hurtled down the left wing, swung around the net, and drawn the attention of John-Michael Liles. After Peverley rolled over the boards, Ference hit the right wing with a sharp pass.
Pouliot had set up in front of goaltender James Reimer. Kelly was cutting backdoor. Either way, Peverley’s pass was likely to hit a friendly stick. The pass got past Pouliot, but got to Kelly for the winner.
“That’s a pretty hard needle to thread,’’ Peverley said. “I can’t exactly take all the credit for that.’’
Had Ference not jumped up in the play, the Bruins most likely would not have scored on the shift. The coaches have been encouraging the defensemen to pinch, jump up, and support the attack as much as possible.
In the second period, Zdeno Chara’s pinch down the left boards led to the opening goal. Toronto’s Carl Gunnarsson had chipped a pass off the wall to Phil Kessel. Chara, reading that he had defensive support if Kessel slithered through, stepped up to bump the puck off his ex-teammate’s stick. After dumping Kessel, Chara watched Milan Lucic gain control of the puck and move it forward to Nathan Horton. In turn, Horton connected with David Krejci in the slot for the game’s first goal.
“You have to pick the right spots and timing in the game,’’ Chara said. “Read the situations and go from there. You don’t want to take any gambles and risk an outnumbered situation going back to your end. It’s just decisions where we have to know when to join the rush or pinch. That’s only happening when you have five guys reading off each other on the ice and talking to each other on the ice.’’
The Bruins have gone 14 games without a regulation loss. Pittsburgh is the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, 3 points ahead of the second-place Bruins. All signs point toward an excellent match tonight at the Consol Energy Center between two of the NHL’s top clubs.
“It’s a good thing for us right now, with where we’re at right now with our team, to give us one of the best possible challenges we could have,’’ coach Claude Julien said of the matchup. “It’s not going to get any easier the next night, when we have to fly to Winnipeg. Winnipeg’s been playing pretty well at home, too. We’ve got two big tests there.’’
In seven games, Sidney Crosby has recorded two goals and 10 assists while centering usual wings Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. The best offensive duo has been the second-line combination of James Neal (14-11-25) and Evgeni Malkin (9-15-24), who have been riding with veteran Steve Sullivan.
One reason the Bruins have been rolling has been the sterling play of third-liners Pouliot, Kelly, and Peverley. Few teams have depth to send out bottom-six forwards and third defensive pairings that can keep pace with Boston’s No. 3 line.
But when the Penguins are healthy, their third line of Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Kennedy is as tough and heavy as they come. Not only will Kelly and Co. have to grind against Staal’s unit, but the No. 3 pairing of Ference and Adam McQuaid will have to spell the other four defensemen with some hard minutes.
“When you’ve got Staal playing on that line, it says a lot about their depth,’’ Julien said of the No. 3 center (12-6-18). “They’re a pretty good team. The coach has done a pretty good job of balancing his lines, finding guys to play with Crosby, and being able to separate those two - Crosby and Malkin.
“It certainly makes things a lot tougher on other teams when they can’t just shut down the one line. He’s found some good balance there.’’
Sharp on draw
Of the five forwards Julien regularly tabs for faceoffs, Peverley has been the draw man with the sharpest stick. He has won 80 of 128 faceoffs for a career-best 62.5 percent winning rate . . . Gregory Campbell didn’t practice yesterday. He has been battling a cold, but is likely to play tonight . . . Steven Kampfer and Jordan Caron will be available tonight and tomorrow in Winnipeg. Both were recalled from Providence Saturday . . . Expect Thomas to start tonight and Rask to get the nod against the Jets.